We are pleased this month to hear from Elie Calhoun, Co-director of Code Innovation, about the launch of a new app that responds to the global epidemic of sexual violence by teaching users how to “do” rape crisis advocacy in any health center to help get survivors the emergency medical care they need. Elie is an inspired global changemaker with whom we have the good fortune of partnering to not only scale impact but also to use technology to amplify the work of social change. Follow her at @eliecalhoun.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey and the deadly floods in Sierra Leone and South Asia, our minds are drawn to disasters and the suffering of displaced people. UNICEF child protection experts say that in emergencies, the first planes on the ground don’t belong to humanitarians but rather human traffickers, there to steal people before anyone registers they’re missing.
While trafficking often seems far away, sexual assault isn’t: we all know a survivor, or like me, we are one ourselves. The statistics are harrowing. We know that one in three or four women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, depending on her background1. For the LGBTQIA population, the numbers can be as high as one in two and for men, the number is still as high as one in six.
According to UNICEF, “the displacement and separation of families and communities place women and girls at increased risk of violence and abuse2.” The emotional, mental and physical health consequences of sexual assault remain with a survivor for life and affect their relationships, work and life opportunities. We all know this, even if it is rarely spoken about.
But trauma can be treatable and the natural post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression that often occur after sexual assault or intimate partner violence can be treated: the sooner the better. We know that having a trained advocate present during the critical hours that a survivor navigates the emergency health care system dramatically increases the likelihood of their full recovery, as well as their willingness to navigate the criminal justice system3.
While logically, there is no shame in being the victim of a crime, our social, health and justice systems often treat survivors as criminals. Even in rich countries, when rape survivors seek medical care and legal justice they are often traumatized a second time by their encounter with an uncaring and uncooperative system. In countries or contexts where rape is likely not to be treated as a crime, survivors face a second ordeal in their attempt to seek care and justice.
Rape Crisis Counseling gives someone the knowledge to support survivors in their community. This information is simple but currently not accessible. I had to train for 40 hours to become a certified New York State Rape Crisis Counselor after passing a drug test and psychological screening and promising to volunteer monthly for two years.
It is my committed belief that this information needs to be available to everyone, so I am partnering with a global coalition, including the DC Rape Crisis Center, the oldest in the United States. Together, we’re creating a free and open source digital platform that shares Rape Crisis Counseling methods with whoever needs it, wherever they are.
My company, Code Innovation, takes high-impact solutions to poverty and inequity and uses exponential technologies to take them to global scale. There is a pattern to finding something amazing and making it into a digital platform, and we’ve been working on this for almost a decade in the international development space. In fact, our best practices and lessons learned contributed to UNICEF’s Innovation Principles which then became the Digital Principles. As early signatories, we pledged to create solutions that are free and open source because we believe that solutions like these need to be in as many hands, as quickly as possible.
I decided we needed to scale rape crisis counseling by making a digital platform when I read my friend Jina Moore’s article, “An Aid Worker Was Raped in South Sudan and the UN Did Nothing About It”. I asked a few hundred women’s rights activists on a global listserv if they thought a platform with this content would be a good idea and got strong support in reply.
Now, thanks to the Imago Dei Fund and the partnership of the first rape crisis center in the United States, the DRRCC, we are at work finalizing the training primer content of the first version of our platform. At Code, we are leading over a dozen global women’s health and human rights organizations in a co-creation process for the content, which was itself open sourced from the DCRCC, the Pittsburgh Action Against Rape coalition and the US Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime. We have translations of the app and platform lined up for Arabic and Farsi, and we hope to expand to many other languages in 2018 with the support of future partners.
From my side, I’m committed to creating a multilingual platform that guides survivors and their advocates in how to get life-saving medical care in a system that currently discriminates against them. When we publish our first version on the app stores later this year, we’ll get feedback from volunteers and women’s rights organizations. Our vision is that networks of volunteers and organizations take this training and empower us all to respond more adequately and appropriately to survivors in our community.
With your support and the app in-hand, we can change how the health system responds to gender-based violence. We can support survivors as they navigate the road to recovery and justice. Thank you for caring about this issue and for reading my story.